2019 NFL Draft Guide: Coaching Systems -- AFC East
Howard Bender take a deep-dive into both the offensive and defensive coaching systems of every NFL team and sheds some light on what you can expect from the coaches, the coordinators and the players. He opens the series with the AFC East.
Over the years, the growth of statistical analysis in fantasy football has been incredible to watch with numerous web sites digging into some pretty in-depth metrics to use when analyzing the performance of both NFL teams and their players. However, as we have routinely pointed out, there are many pitfalls you can fall into when looking at year-to-year numbers. Things change at a rapid rate in the NFL. Not only is player movement abundant, but the revolving doors we’ve seen for head coaches and their coordinators seem to be in a perpetual spin.
As a result, comparing performances between the different seasons can often be an exercise in futility. A running back who found success against a particular team one year cannot be guaranteed success the following season as, not only could the opposition change defensive coordinators and systems, but said running back’s team could have gone through its own changes as well. Or, that player could be on an entirely new team and thus play in a completely different system.
There’s that word again – system. We use it often. We may also refer to it as a scheme, but the fact remains that a team’s system probably has a greater impact on a player’s production than even that player’s level of talent. As explained in the Learn Each Team’s System article in the 30 Strategies section, you can take a running back with mediocre talent and watch him excel if the coach’s system caters to the player’s strengths. Conversely, you can take a highly-talented player, put him in a system that doesn’t necessarily feature his strengths and watch his overall production suffer.
This is why we urge you to study each and every team’s system, both on offense and defense. From a seasonal fantasy standpoint, it will help you make the right selections on draft day. If you’re looking at the Ultimate Cheat Sheet and see two players you like in the same tier, knowledge of the system in which they play can prove to be the deciding factor. From a DFS standpoint, you’ll have a much better idea as to which offenses match up better against a particular opponent and be able to construct your lineup accordingly.
And that is what makes what you are about to read, so valuable. This isn’t just some draft guide you toss aside once you’ve had your draft. You’re going to be able to refer back to this article throughout the season as it will help you with your weekly research. Do you prefer to stream team defenses? This will help. Trying to decide which free agent running back is a better pick-up off waivers? This will help. Trying to decide whether it’s worth paying up for Travis Kelce on Draft Kings in Week 5 or if you should bargain-shop for a different tight end? Yes. This will help.
What you will find here is a complete breakdown of each team’s coaching system, on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball. Not only will you learn the different systems and tendencies of the coaches and coordinators, but you will also learn which players each system caters to the best. You will also learn which ones don’t and, perhaps, should be avoided in drafts.
We understand that this is going to be a ton of information for you to take in and sitting down to read a 15,000-word article is nearly impossible in this day and age. For those reasons, we will attack it division by division, beginning with the AFC East, and gradually release new divisions every few days.
So, bookmark this page for easy reference, strap yourself in and get comfortable. This just might be the most important ride you take this season.
A few notes before you dive into each team:
The numbers you will see for each head coach and offensive coordinator refer to where their unit ranked among all 32 teams each season in the various categories. Most are self-explanatory, but if you are unfamiliar with “pace,” it is exactly what you think it is – how long it takes for the team’s offensive unit to get to the line of scrimmage and snap the ball from play to play. Your more methodical offenses, the ones that focus on controlling the game (usually because they have a lead they want to maintain), are slower to get to the line and therefore have a higher rank for their game pace.
Also, the ranks are reserved for NFL head coaches and offensive coordinators as they are the primary play-callers. Individual position coaching experience is listed, but the teams’ ranks aren’t included as they are merely cogs in a much bigger machine.
Types of Offenses:
West Coast Offense – Derived by Bill Walsh, this system puts more of an emphasis on passing than running and is focused on short, horizontal passing routes to stretch out the defense and ultimately open things up for longer run plays and longer passes.
Air Coryell (a.k.a. Vertical or Timing Offense) – A combination of both deep and mid-range passing in conjunction with power running. The system uses a lot of motion and the passing is based on timing and rhythm with the quarterback actually throwing to a spot rather than to a specific player which helps to maximize yards gained after the catch.
Erhardt-Perkins Offense – The original formula, which dates back to the 1970’s Patriots, focused on a run-first offense with a simplified, quarterback-friendly passing game. However, when Charlie Weis joined New England, he used it as a building block to develop a more modern version which maintains the run but now enhances the multiple passing options and possibilities within a given play.
Spread Offense -- The Spread offense is designed to do exactly as it sounds. The scheme spreads out the offense with four or five receivers, which forces the defense to match. The personnel on the field rarely changes so the offense can wear the defense down, especially with no huddle sprinkled in.
Air Raid Offense – The system is notable for its heavy focus on passing and, if implemented in full, could result in 65-75% passing plays throughout the season. This is an up-tempo, no-huddle scheme where the quarterback has the freedom to audible to any play based on what the defense is showing at the line of scrimmage. One interesting aspect you will see here as well is that the offensive linemen are not bunched together like you see in a conventional offense. They are split about a half-yard apart which is supposed to cause defensive linemen to run further to get to the quarterback and allow for short, quick passing to neutralize blitzes. It is also used to open up wider passing lanes which should prevent passes from being knocked down or intercepted at the line of scrimmage.
Pistol Offense – An offensive scheme which became more popular in the NFL with the rise of more athletic, mobile quarterbacks. It’s less of a base offense and more of an adaptation as its formation is a hybrid of single-back formations and shotgun. The premise of the scheme places the quarterback and running back closer to the line of scrimmage (about four yards behind instead of the usual seven) which should give the quarterback an easier read and less time for the defense to react. Its success really depends on the quarterback’s ability to read the defense properly.
Types of Defenses:
3-4 – Focus on size and length across the defensive line, inside linebackers ball-hawk, outside linebackers make plays as edge defenders and there is a heavy use of defensive backs to cover in the open field which helps disguise the blitz better.
4-3 – With four lineman and only three linebackers, the defenders are each responsible for covering a gap during a run and will usually set up with a closed formation on the opposing tight end. Pre-game prep and opposing personnel will determine which side the line will close if facing a two-tight end set-up.
Cover-2 – a two-deep, five under zone defense used to take away vertical concepts while forcing the ball underneath to the flat or check-down option.
Cover-3 – a three-deep, four-under zone defense where both cornerbacks drop to the outside zones with the free-safety playing the deep middle.
With the introduction out of the way, let’s get started.
|Head Coach||Sean McDermott||3rd year|
|Offensive Coordinator||Brian Daboll||2nd year|
|Defensive Coordinator||Leslie Frazier||3rd year|
|Offensive System||Erhardt-Perkins Offense|
|Sean McDermott -- HC||Brian Daboll -- OC|
|Category||2016 (CAR)||2017||2018||Category||2016 (NE)||2017||2018|
|Points||DC||22||30||Points||TE COACH||ALA OC||30|
|Pace||DC||3||20||Pace||TE COACH||ALA OC||20|
|Pass Attempts||DC||31||28||Pass Attempts||TE COACH||ALA OC||28|
|Passing Yards||DC||31||31||Passing Yards||TE COACH||ALA OC||31|
|Rushing Attempts||DC||4||6||Rushing Attempts||TE COACH||ALA OC||6|
|Rushing Yards||DC||6||9||Rushing Yards||TE COACH||ALA OC||9|
Offensive Breakdown: In his first season with the Bills, Daboll went back to his New England roots and implemented his interpretation of the Erhardt-Perkins system with the hope of simplifying things for Nathan Peterman and, eventually, Josh Allen . He was based primarily in the “11 personnel” look, utilizing three receivers, one running back and one tight end, but over the course of the season, he adjusted to some of his players’ strengths and began to infuse some of the more popular NFL trends like jet sweeps, play-action and bunch formations into his core offensive concepts. Over the last seven games of the season, the Bills averaged almost 25 points per game.
You can expect them to continue down the same path – an up-tempo scheme with more no-huddle that leads with the run. Plays should develop quickly and Allen should have an easier time deciding whether to thread the needle, throw it away or take off running. The team also gave him more weapons who thrive in the short-passing game, so that should help with the pace as well.
Defensive System: 4-3 with Zone Coverage
Defensive Breakdown: Leslie Frazier is heading into his third season as the Bills DC and expectations of back-to-back years as a top-five defense are already in place. Especially when you see how the Bills are returning the majority of their starters from last year, as defense that ranked No. 2 overall. Star Lotulelei is strong up the middle and DE Jerry Hughes gives you a guy who can rush the passer even without having to blitz all the time. The key for this unit is in the coverage as Frazier will roll out a few different zone looks. He used to rely heavily on the Cover-2, but as NFL offenses have evolved, so have Frazier’s coverage schemes.
|Head Coach||Brian Flores||1st year|
|Offensive Coordinator||Chad O'Shea||1st year|
|Defensive Coordinator||Patrick Graham||1st year|
|Offensive System||Erhardt-Perkins Offense|
|Brian Flores -- HC||Chad O'Shea -- OC|
|Category||2016 (NE)||2017 (NE)||2018 (NE)||Category||2016 (NE)||2017 (NE)||2018 (NE)|
|Points||LB COACH||LB COACH||LB COACH||Points||WR COACH||WR COACH||WR COACH|
|Pace||LB COACH||LB COACH||LB COACH||Pace||WR COACH||WR COACH||WR COACH|
|Pass Attempts||LB COACH||LB COACH||LB COACH||Pass Attempts||WR COACH||WR COACH||WR COACH|
|Passing Yards||LB COACH||LB COACH||LB COACH||Passing Yards||WR COACH||WR COACH||WR COACH|
|Rushing Attempts||LB COACH||LB COACH||LB COACH||Rushing Attempts||WR COACH||WR COACH||WR COACH|
|Rushing Yards||LB COACH||LB COACH||LB COACH||Rushing Yards||WR COACH||WR COACH||WR COACH|
Offensive Breakdown: New head coach Brian Flores comes from the Bill Belichick coaching tree and spent the last 15 years working under him in New England. Like Belichick, Flores is a defensive-minded coach, so he simply brought in Chad O’Shea as his offensive coordinator. O’Shea spent the last decade as the WR coach for the Patriots, and has a very firm grasp on Josh McDaniels’ version of the Erhardt-Perkins system. Given the personnel differences between the Patriots and the Dolphins, you may not see as much of the spread offense-infusion McDaniels uses, but that’s not set in stone.
The bottom line is that we should see a simplified offense that relies strongly on the run and has multiple route combinations from which the quarterback can choose depending on what he is reading off the defense. The running backs will also be involved heavily in the passing game so look for swings, flats and corner routes as a primary read in some of those combinations. The vertical passing game will hopefully open up downfield, but you can expect a lot of action for the slot receivers as those quick, short passes move the chains.
Defensive System: Multiple
Defensive Breakdown: Yes. Multiple. That is what both Flores and new DC Patrick Graham are calling the Dolphins new defensive scheme. Word is they are trying to create a defensive unit that runs multiple schemes based on who the opponent is and what the game flow is looking like. They could go 3-4 or 4-3 depending on the situation and that also means they’re likely to switch between different zone coverage and man-to-man. Their main focus is likely on the pass-rush so we should see Charles Harris as both an edge-rusher and traditional defensive end.
New England Patriots
|Head Coach||Bill Belichick||20th year|
|Offensive Coordinator||Josh McDaniels||8th year|
|Offensive System||Erhardt-Perkins Offense|
|Bill Belichick -- HC||Josh McDaniels -- OC|
|Pass Attempts||23||7||11||Pass Attempts||23||7||11|
|Passing Yards||4||2||8||Passing Yards||4||2||8|
|Rushing Attempts||3||11||3||Rushing Attempts||3||11||3|
|Rushing Yards||7||10||5||Rushing Yards||7||10||5|
Offensive Breakdown: The base is that of a spread offense in which three or more receivers run routes to separate areas of the field to stretch out the defense, but this scheme is continuously in flux based on week-to-week match-ups and play-to-play adjustments. As great as Bill Belichick is with his adjustments on defense, Josh McDaniels is equally strong with the offense. The offense is capable of lining up in a variety of different ways and predicting what they are going to do within each series has proven to be an exercise in futility.
Last season, we said we expected a heavier reliance on the running backs to take the pressure off an aging Tom Brady and we got just that. However, at one point, Tom Brady insisted a heavier use of James White which tilts more towards the traditional use of pass-catching backs in this system. There is a good chance we see the Patriots back off from that a little bit more this season with the addition of bigger wideouts who can thrive in the vertical passing game, but McDaniels will work together with his quarterback to ensure A. the scheme is working and B. the star of the show remains happy.
Defensive System: 4-3 hybrid with multi-front looks
Defensive Breakdown: As tough as it is to pinpoint the offense to one particular system, the defense, which is run by the mad genius himself, can be even more complex. While the base is 4-3, the Patriots offer up countless different looks and are able to disguise their coverage and blitzes pretty well. Belichick expects all of his players to be able to adjust to any type of scheme without missing a beat and, so far, he and his coaches have done a fantastic job teaching them. When Matt Patricia left for Detroit last year, Belichick took back the play-calling on defense and is slated to do the same this season.
Players Who Best Fit the System: Anyone who just says, “Yes, coach,” and does their job.
New York Jets
|Head Coach||Adam Gase||1st year|
|Offensive Coordinator||Dowell Loggains||1st year|
|Defensive Coordinator||Gregg Williams||1st year|
|Offensive System||RPO-Infused West Coast Offense|
|Adam Gase -- HC||Dowell Loggains -- OC|
|Category||2016 (MIA)||2017 (MIA)||2018 (MIA)||Category||2016 (CHI)||2017 (CHI)||2018 (MIA)|
|Pass Attempts||31||4||30||Pass Attempts||22||32||30|
|Passing Yards||26||18||30||Passing Yards||14||32||30|
|Rushing Attempts||18||32||25||Rushing Attempts||25||18||25|
|Rushing Yards||9||29||18||Rushing Yards||17||16||18|
Offensive Breakdown: With the offensive difficulties we witnessed in Miami last year, head coach Adam Gase has a lot of work to do this season with the Jets. But with Le'Veon Bell serving as the likely focal point, we can expect Gase’s play-calling to skew a lot more towards him than it did with Kenyan Drake in Miami. New offensive line coach Frank Pollack is all about the zone-blocking so that, coupled with the RPO (run-pass options) infusion, will enable Sam Darnold to lean on Bell which should ultimately help open things up for more play-action downfield. Gase is also notorious for leaning on the slot receivers in his system, so the short, quick passing we are used to seeing in a traditional West Coast offense will also be strongly in use.
Defensive System: 3-4 with multiple coverages
Defensive Breakdown: The biggest question mark that came with the hiring of Gregg Williams was his traditional use of a 4-3 scheme and Gase’s desire to maintain the 3-4 based on the personnel. Players like Henry Anderson and Leonard Williams thrived in the 3-4 and newly-acquired C.J. Mosley came from a 3-4 system as well. Gase wants the defense to cater to the personnel he has and, as such, Williams has conceded. But while Gase has seemingly won out, you can probably expect Williams to mix in a number of different looks and coverage disguises. The base will remain 3-4, but we should see plenty of different looks.